PENNvestigates: Why do road trips make me mean?

Lets start with the visual evidence…

Exhibit A – a picture my wife took during our recent 11 day road trip around Florida.  Note the posture, the extra vein sticking out of my forehead (not normal), and the Ivory White Knuckles.

photo-6

Exhibit B – when I asked my wife to do an impression of me on a road trip, she did this (and my 6 year old even joined in).

Verdict : Road trips make me mean.

This behavior is particularly shocking to my wife, who has labeled me “The Human Golden Retriever.” I am generally very cheery, laid back and happy in nearly every situation. But this situation turns me into a (insert mean dog breed here that doesn’t get me in trouble with dog lovers).

And I  am not the only one.  There are millions of us, mostly dads.  We are, well, we’re A-Holes.  We don’t really speed, but we find the absolute maximum pace where we won’t get arrested (for me it’s 9 MPH) We turn on the GPS, and treat the Estimated Time of Arrival like it’s Moby Dick.  If it starts to get away from us, we become surly.  In the car with three other rational people, we irrationally treat potty breaks like a NASCAR pit stop, whisking the kids in and out, hopefully in a place where we can also get gas and cram food down their throats.  If our kids say “I have to pee”, we find out how long they can sit there uncomfortably without killing them.  If we are on a one lane road and the guy in front of is is going under the speed limit, we GO BLIND WITH RAGE. We are completely fixated on getting to our destination more quickly than expected… When, in the end, all this behavior probably saves us about 5 minutes.

So why do we do it?

I asked two people – one of them a personal coach, another a licensed family therapist (who happens to be my cousin, thus having some advanced personal insight).

Beth Livingstone gave me a really simple answer, and then a more elaborate one.

The simple answer : “I think you may just be bored to death, Penn.”

The more elaborate one : Beth works with a “type indicator” called Myers Briggs – that groups mental processing into one of 16 types.  In the end your personality is simplified in a four letter code – if you don’t want to bother with the full test check this out – scroll over the codes and find the one that fits you.   If your first letter is an “E”, that means you’re an extravert.  You get your energy from people around you, not so much from within.  You’d rather go to a big party than a quiet walk.  And Beth tells me extraverts struggle when they get into a car and have to stare at a road for 8 hours.

If you are an ENFP, like me, you are really in trouble.

“An ENFP is bad with routines”, says Beth.  “And if you are stuck in a routine, you start coping by turning mundane tasks into games.”

At this point I realized that she couldn’t be more right.  I was trying to beat the GPS, that was the big game.  I was also trying to find every license plate in America, and (this is really neurotic), see how few times I could breathe over a 5 mile stretch according to my odometer.

I try to get my wife and kids to join in but here’s the problem : they all have SCREENS.  My wife is on the iPhone and my kids are in the back with a Nabi or a DVD Video.  I can’t even listen to the radio because it clashes with Arthur Christmas blaring in my ears from the back seat. So I’m on my own.

So how to fix it? Beth says the mean road tripper should simply confess his/her shortcoming to the fam, and ask them to make an effort to interact a little more.  Turn off the screens.  Bring a trivia game that everyone can play, or find another game to try and break the routine.

Opinion #2, from my cousin Lorinda : her words in normal type, mine in Italics:

“My initial thought is that it has to do with control. When you have children, everything is suddenly unpredictable and chaotic. Parents often feel “out of control.” (YEP! breakfast is like Bastille Day)  Transitions in the life cycle can also contribute to feeling out of control – job changes,illness, taking care of aging parents, etc. (yes, yes and yes.  Are you spying on me Lorinda?) So, when you strap the kids in the car and hit the road, you are in control and no one, not even the GPS lady, Ethel (or whatever name you give her), (mine is Maxine and she is super hot)  is going to dictate that trip or tell you how long it’s going to take to get there. You’re in the driver’s seat now.  I think this tends to be more of an issue for dads, as it is typically the moms who become the managers of the household. They usually have the most control. They often are the ones who determine the schedules of the family and the rules of the house, for example. Therefore, when dad gets behind the wheel, he’s in charge. And it feels good. Evolutionary psychology might say that it’s the innately competitive nature of men. (I think I once put Lorinda under a rim so I could dunk on her. She is a foot shorter than me.  I have a problem and she knows it). Historically, men have had to compete with other men to find a mate and subsequently pass on his genes. Also, testosterone levels increase when competing. They rise even more when you win. Dopamine levels increase as well, so like I said, it feels good.”

Thanks, Lorinda and Beth, for the great insight.  Together we can build a better world where we aren’t putting the “Dope” in “Dopamine.

OK, now your turn – does this sound familiar? Or do you have any other theories? Comment below.

37 thoughts on “PENNvestigates: Why do road trips make me mean?

  1. Well it seems to me when you have multiple families meeting at a trip location like a big beach house, the dad’s always seem to turn this into a game of who can get there first and who completed their trip in record time. Which of course leads to some white lies about how long the trip actually took plus a lot of cranky dad’s! You are not alone!

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  2. I agree that its likely a control/boredom thing! I am a single mom and in my past relationships I’ve done all the driving. (Maybe that’s why I’m still single… but hey that’s another story.) Being the product of divorce myself I spent many hours in a car growing up. My dad used to joke that I was going to have a bucket seat butt. Back then it was easy to pass the time. I could just go to sleep and was usually out in about 5 minutes. But now that I am doing the driving, its hard. Now mind you I don’t get into fits of blind rage but little things do get very VERY aggravating. Being stuck behind a slow vehicle is probably worst, but also people riding my tail makes me CRAZY. Usually I’m staying a safe following distance behind the car in front of me and someone wants to be in that spot. I mean really people… Will that extra 2 seconds get you there that much faster? Oops maybe I just referenced you Penn! It was you trying to cut me off on the highway wasn’t it?? 🙂 I’ve found a good solution for me is books on disc. Right now my son isn’t old enough to converse with me so I either listen to books or jam some tunes and dance in my seat. That has become the best way for me to pass the time and beat the Interstate Blues.

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  3. I did the Myers-Briggs profile for my MBA class and came up INTJ. Being an introvert and thinker, I can go for hours on road trips, by myself or with others and it doesn’t bother me. Although I do confess to having a competition with whatever the GPS and google maps say your timing should be. My dad’s personality was similar to yours and every time we had a road trip, the ogre came out. My mom packed an army’s supply of snacks so no food stops, and no drinking in the car, so minimal bathroom stops. I guess it is a male thing and Lorinda’s on target.

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  4. Fellow ENFP here, although my E and my I are almost interchangeable. This is totally me on a road trip. Throw in seven kids and bathroom stops turn into a form of torture….. I just want to get to my destination as quickly as possible….weak bladders be damned. 😉

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  5. After reading this post, and laughing out loud because it was all too familiar, I think I have a slight understanding of my crazy husband’s mind when we are on a road trip! Long road trips I.e. back home to PA are such a “big to do” with him– drama. Lol and Although this all makes sense after the two female perspectives broke it down, I think this is probably an epidemic.
    Thanks for the laugh!

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  6. I have an uncanny ability to completely tone out everything inside the car. Lil’ pooper is having a conniption fit in the backseat? The wifey needs my undivided attention and co-parenting support? Oops, I was daydreaming about Christie Brinkley in a red Ferrari!

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  7. I’m used to my husband trying to beat the GPS, that’s nothing new. He’s not the calm type, anyway. More interesting is my own incabability to stay calm in a car – and I would pride myself to be THE calmest person in the world having a non-calm husband, an equally non-calm son and a medium-calm daughter. I don’t like driving, even to think about it makes me go all tense. I have no sense of orientation, so I’m dependent on the GPS. But nothing is as bad as all the other idiots in the cars around me!
    Or, as my daughter put it: “Why do you look so strict when you’re driving?” Son’s comment: “Why do you shout at the guy in the car in front, can he hear you?”

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  8. I am a Dr of Mathematics and that adds a whole new layer of complexity to my “Dark Side Road Trip OGRE”, it is a constant equation against the GPS, fuel mileage, what is NECESSARY food intake and what is OPTIONAL. I keep my family of 4 children engaged in how there assistance in this process is making it possible for us to BEAT or WIN the distance competition. What is worse is we live in NYC and have a home in Boca Raton, Florida. So, we make frequent Long Distance trips with the family. My wife, bless her for her patience on these adventures, plays along with my game of math meets OGRE. She rushes the children into the Truck stop and rushes them back to the car quickly. Truck stops I have learned are the most efficient place to stop_calories (subway, McDonalds, some local hot food, diapers, rest rooms, faster fueling pumps (by a minute filling our SUV), changing tables, showers (if a child vomits which has happened, of course they waited the 8 miles to reach Truck stop) and super size beverages of caffeine for me and one water bottle for everyone else to share. The unfortunate part is, with all my efficiency, including adjusted speed and stops, i can only save a maximum of 11.12% of total trip time according to Google maps. So on our usual 20 hours drive, I saved a whopping 2 hours and 22 minutes.. But, every trip required a certain amount of sleep for myself and family. So, i rented a Motor home last year to do the journey, figured they would sleep and I would drive.. Nope, same result, needed to stop anyway at a hotel, as infants can not sleep in moving motor apparently. The 10 stops to try to assist in getting the children to sleep resulted in PURE DADDY overload.. Causing my wife to have a quick melt down and forced me to a hotel. So, I no longer OGRE, No longer use advanced math, physics, doctoral skills at all. I just drive with my I-pod (listening to patience talks or a audio book on patience) and no longer use navigation. I surrendered to the travel gods and 4 children. To my surprise, i actually had the 12% more efficient trip. Hmm. can’t compute that one at all..

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  9. Penn, Since I don’t see an email address on here for you I’ll try this. I own the Raleigh Rickshaw Co. Raleigh and Durham’s Bike carriages that run downtown. We have a video Rickshaw that would be perfect for you to come out get a work out and make some cool vids. in seven years i have seen it all and have come across some of the funniest people and situations in Raleigh not to mention unique. The production value of working from a rickshaw coupled with the downtown atmosphere in the back ground I think would be an excellent opportunity for promotion for both of us. so if your interested in ever becoming your alter ego rickshaw driver in downtown Raleigh or durham please feel free to give me a call. Donald Mertrud Raleigh Rickshaw Co. 919-621-2060

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  10. Penn, Since I don’t see an email address on here for you I’ll try this. I own the Raleigh Rickshaw Co. Raleigh and Durham’s Bike carriages that run downtown. We have a video Rickshaw that would be perfect for you to come out get a work out and make some cool vids. in seven years i have seen it all and have come across some of the funniest people and situations in Raleigh not to mention unique. The production value of working from a rickshaw coupled with the downtown atmosphere in the back ground I think would be an excellent opportunity for promotion for both of us. so if your interested in ever becoming your alter ego rickshaw driver in downtown Raleigh or durham please feel free to give me a call. Donald Mertrud Raleigh Rickshaw Co. 919-621-2060

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  11. You are not alone -my husband and I got bored one road trip to the beach when the kids were little and we started a new game. We were in the country and for some reason wondered, “where do they bury all their dead people as we see no graveyards?” I know it is morbid, but you will get insanely competitive, blocking out the other persons view when you see a church coming up, or a big open field. Now since we know where are the graveyards are in town we have upped the stakes a bit and you only get points if there is activity going on at the graveyard – points depend on what is going on, ie, service happening, digging the plot, moving the casket. Like I said, it is morbid, but this is what came out of boredom on the way to the beach. The kids are now old enough they play along too – mainly the ref who called it first, but sometimes they call out to get the point.

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  12. Wait, I’m a woman and a mom and I can totally relate to this…what does that say?!? And my GPS is affectionately called “dizzy lizzy” because she’s always saying recalculating because I’m trying to find a faster way..LOL Maybe it has more to do with having children?

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  13. Why does this happen: When I drive, my husband says he is in charge of the radio so that I will not be distracted. BUT, when he drives I am not allowed to touch the exact same radio because it is in the “driver’s zone”. Control freak man driver. I feel the universe gets him back when my daughters each wear headphones, listening and singing loudly to different songs.

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  14. Let your wife drive! You can then be the passenger and be in charge of entertaining everyone. Seems like you would be good at that. That is what I do now. Can’t remember the last time I drove on a long trip. Loving it.

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  15. I am happy, I live in Switzerland. My maximum road trip is 2 hours to our mountain cottage. I could never do more more than that behind a while. Luckily, my wife is from LA. She can drive for hours.

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  16. I am happy, I live in Switzerland. My maximum road trip is 2 hours to our mountain cottage. I could never do more more than that behind a wheel. Luckily, my wife is from LA. She can drive for hours.

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  17. I am happy, I live in Switzerland. My maximum road trip is 2 hours to our mountain cottage. I could never do more more than that behind a wheel. I guess, I am the same four letters as Penn. Luckily, my wife is from LA. She can drive for hours.

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  18. Mr. Penn,
    Another angle, maybe it IS your golden retriever quality that can’t be cooped up. You want to have the most fun, as long as possible, with the people you love. You want to make the most memories you can in one day. You have worked hard and want to enjoy this vacation to the fullest.
    On your next trip just crack that driver window to nose level, most dogs travel with the window open. Although, it is a killer on the ears and vibration once you hit 45mph!
    Keep up the good work, Dad. Love the videos and new to the blog now too. I’m a little proud of my 8 year old son; he’s almost memorized all of your Christmas 2013 video!

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  19. I discovered a miracle 2 years ago that has changed our car trips forever. Headphones. They watch videos, I listen to music and my wife is engrossed in her screen. Ahhhh, peace and quiet.

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  20. Pingback: More Bizarre Road Trip Behavior | THE PENNTERNET

  21. Penn,

    Really enjoy your creations! I am interested to know what you liked best about news/sports broadcasting and what you liked least. As a fellow ENFP (who chafes at routine and who also likes to make games out of situations), I was drawn to it as a young person but never could fully buy into it. As one who has been so successful in the field, would be interested in your unique take on it. Keep up the great work!

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  22. So, we live in Cary and drive to Connecticut once per year. 2 rules as a father with 2 boys and a wife who loves Starbucks. 2 20 minute stops on ride. One in VA on exit 68A and one in DE at state line. That’s it. Any other bladder issues need to be addressed by a pull up. The drive takes 8:45 and we have a dog with mental issues about using bathroom on public who we bring along.

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  23. I am also an ENFP and I get this…completely. Everything is a game. When I am getting ready in the morning, how many songs does it take? I make predictions about everything too and watch patterns. My husband is a polar opposite and is the Director of program management in the auto industry. Basically, it is his job to make sure his platforms are delivered on time and under budget…I.e. Micro manager. We both have had serious thoughts of how we could kill the other one. It is still a mystery how we have made it 12 years. The day I delivered our son, he drove under the speed limit and asked if I wanted to grab something to eat on the way to hospital. He is lucky he lived to see the birth of our son. I joined him on an eight hour trip from Indianapolis to Chattanooga TN. He wouldn’t let me turn on the radio because he likes to think while he drives. We now fly everywhere. I am the one white knuckling it and trying to beat the gps no matter where I am going. I really think it is our personality types and nothing more. Stay strong my friend! Be grateful you have a family laughing at your quirks! 🙂

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  24. I’m the mom and I drive..and I drive to beat the GPS so I totally understand.. However, I LIKE driving…for your their-watching-a-video boredom I use my ipod..I keep one ear bud in and one out. It is not safe to drive with earbuds in so this is my compromise and it works out great. I am an INFP so I enjoy the quiet of the car and the game of the GPS!

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  25. Hello! Quick question that’s totally off topic. Do you know how to make your site mobile friendly?
    My blog looks weird when browsing from my iphone 4. I’m trying to find a theme
    or plugin that might be able to correct this problem.
    If you have any suggestions, please share. Thanks!

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  26. After a 12 houris one shot drive from Texas to Florida, I found this story hilarious, and relatable! At one point in our trip my husband took an on ramp curve like a Nascar driver, prompting me to grab the handle and scream “WHY are we going so fast!?” His response….the not so reassuring……”I DON’T KNOW!” Well done, cruise control, you win.

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  27. Oh…have you tried Waze? That app brings it to an all new level! This is hilarious and so true! Thanks for sharing this…passing on to my husband right now.

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